A Citizen's
Guide to


A summary of
federal restrictions
on the purchase, sale,
possession, and transportation
of firearms and ammunition.

Federal firearms laws are subject to frequent change. The following summary is not to be considered as legal advice or a restatement of law. To determine the applicability of these laws to specific situations which you may encounter, you are strongly urged to consult a local attorney knowledgeable in firearms laws.

Under federal law supported by the National Rifle Association, the use of a firearm in a violent or drug-trafficking crime is punishable by a mandatory prison sentence of up to 20 years. A second conviction, if the firearm is a machine gun or is equipped with a silencer, brings life imprisonment without release. Violating firearms laws should lead to very real punishment for violent criminals, but the laws first must be enforced.

Ineligible Persons
The following classes of people are ineligible to possess, receive, ship, or transport firearms or ammunition:

-- Those convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment for over one year, except state misdemeanors punishable by two years or less.
-- Fugitives from justice.
-- Unlawful users of certain depressant, narcotic, or stimulant drugs.
-- Those adjudicated as mental defectives or incompetents or those committed to any mental institution.
-- Illegal aliens.
-- Citizens who have renounced their citizenship.
-- Those persons dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces.
-- Persons less than 18 years of age for the purchase of a shotgun or rifle.
-- Persons less than 21 years of age for the purchase of a firearm that is other than a shotgun or rifle.
-- Persons subject to a court order that restrains such persons from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner.
-- Persons convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Persons under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year are ineligible to receive, transport, or ship any firearm or ammunition. Under limited conditions, relief from disability may be obtained from the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, or through a pardon, expungement, restoration of rights, or setting aside of a conviction.
Acquiring Firearms
The following restrictions apply to firearms acquired through purchase, trade, receipt of gifts, or by other means.

From Dealers
Provided that federal law and the laws of both the dealer's and purchaser's states and localities are complied with:

-- An individual 21 years of age or older may acquire a handgun from a dealer federally licensed to sell firearms in the individual's state of residence
-- An individual 18 years of age or older may purchase a rifle or shotgun from a federally licensed dealer in any state

It shall be unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer to sell, deliver, or transfer a firearm unless the federal firearms licensee receives notice of approval from a prescribed source approving the transfer.

Sale of a firearm by a federally licensed dealer must be documented by a federal form 4473, which identifies and includes other information about the purchaser, and records the make, model, and serial number of the firearm. Sales to an individual of multiple handguns within a five-day period require dealer notification to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Violations of dealer record keeping requirements are punishable by a penalty of up to $1000 and one year's imprisonment.

From Individuals
An individual may not sell a firearm to a resident of another state, or an ineligible person. Firearms received by bequest or intestate succession are exempt from those sections of the law which forbid the transfer, sale, delivery or transportation of firearms into a state other than the transferor's state of residence.

Mail-order sales, and other transfer between individuals residing in different states, are prohibited. Firearms may be transferred between dealers licensed in different states, for subsequent sale to an individual.

Temporary use of Another's Firearm
Provided that all other laws are complied with, an individual may temporarily borrow or rent a firearm for lawful sporting purposes throughout the United States.

Antique firearms and replicas are exempted from the aforementioned restrictions. Antique firearms are defined as: any firearm (including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system) manufactured in or before 1898, and any replica of a firearm as designed above if the replica is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional centerfire ammunition, or uses fixed ammunition, which is no longer manufactured in the United States and which is not readily available in the ordinary channels or commercial trade, any muzzle loading rifle, muzzle loading shotgun, or muzzle loading pistol, which is designed to use black powder, or a black powder substitute, and which cannot use fixed ammunition. (Note: Antiques exemptions vary considerably under state laws.)

Prohibited Firearms
The 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill included a provision that prohibited the manufacture and sale to non-military and police, after Sept. 13, 1994, of semi-automatic rifles equipped with a detachable magazine and two or more of the following: bayonet lug, flash suppressor, protruding pistol grip, folding stock or threaded muzzle. Similar guidelines were imposed on handguns and shotguns. Additionally, the manufacture and sale to non-military or police of "large-capacity" ammunition magazines (holding more than 10 rounds) were also outlawed. "Assault weapons" and "large" magazines manufactured before Sept. 13, 1994 are exempt from the law.

Shipping Firearms
Personally owned rifles and shotguns may be mailed or shipped only to dealers or manufacturers for any lawful purpose, including sale, repair, or customizing. Firearms may not be sent interstate from one non-dealer to another non-dealer. Handguns may not be mailed but may be shipped otherwise to dealers or manufacturers for any lawful purpose.

Firearms or ammunition delivered to a common carrier for shipment must be accompanied by a written notice to the carrier of the contents of the shipment.

Transporting Firearms During Travel
A provision of federal law serves as a defense to state or local laws which would prohibit the passage of persons with firearms in interstate travel.
Notwithstanding any state or local law, a person shall be entitled to transport a firearm from any place where he may lawfully possess and transport such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and transport such firearm if the firearm is unloaded and in the trunk. In vehicles without a trunk, the unloaded firearm shall be in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.

Federal law prohibits the carrying of any firearm, concealed or unconcealed, on or about the person or in carry-on baggage while aboard an aircraft.

Any passenger who owns or legally possesses a firearm being transported aboard any common or contract carrier for movement with the passenger in interstate or foreign commerce must deliver the unloaded firearm into custody of the pilot, captain, conductor, or operator of such common or contract carrier for the duration of the trip.

Ammunition may be bought or sold without regard to state boundaries. Ammunition shipments across state lines, or by commercial carriers, are subject to strict explosives regulations. As with firearms, shipments of ammunition must be accompanied by a written notice of the shipment's contents.

It is illegal to manufacture or sell armor-piercing handgun ammunition.

Persons who engage in the business of buying or selling firearms must be licensed by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. A special class of "licensed collectors" provides for the purchase and sale of firearms designated by the BATF as "curios and relics." Class III dealers may sell fully-automatic firearms manufactured prior to May 19, 1986, and other federally registered firearms and devices restricted under Title II of the Gun Control Act, to individuals who obtain approval from the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury after payment of a tax and clearance following a criminal background check.

Violations of restrictions on Title II firearms and devices are punishable by a penalty of up to $10,000 and 10 years imprisonment.

In addition to federal gun laws imposed by the National Firearms Act (1934), Gun Control Act (1968), Firearms Owner's Protection Act (1986), Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993), the 1994 Omnibus Crime Control Act and other laws, most states and some local jurisdictions have imposed their own firearms restrictions.

Posted: 1999-07-28